Note – I was facing my row of binded books when I got inspired to write this piece. It’s slightly longer than most of my posts, but is worth it, according to me. Enjoy, and let me know what you think 🙂 )
Hafeez Saab looked out at the early morning sky, the birds twittering, the slow rustle amidst the leaves, speaking of the coming monsoon. He washed his hands, feet and face, down to his appropriately sized grey beard, in the typical Islamic fashion of abulation. Soon enough, he heard the Muezzin’s voice tear through the wind and wake the righteous ones to the call of the Almighty. He faced westward and started his prayers.
He boiled his tea, in the kettle that was one of the many objects in the house that reminded him of his Begum. They had been a childless couple, and after she passed on to the better world, he felt utterly alone at times. As long as the book shop occupied him, it was easy. But, these days, with nothing to do, he hoped and prayed, five times a day to join his Begum soon.
He used to be a book binder. From young children whose mothers got their copies of the Quran binded so that the children won’t tear them, to shy young girls who got their first romance novels binded, and therefore, secured, he had seen many a tales take shape in front of his eyes. He loved to give the books the strong, sturdy spines so that they would last for more years than originally thought to be.
He set an excellent environmental example, by asking students to bring all of their used notebooks, tearing the unused pages from all and binding them all together to make into a new one. True, all of them had lines of a different colour, but when they combined, it reminded him of the multicultural diversity of his homeland. Red next to green, green next to white, all strongly held together by mutual interest.
Hafeez chacha was the local favourite with all people, no matter what age or ethnicity. His soft, lucknowi urdu melted many hearts. His sparkling eyes, behind those half moon spectacles reminded young children of the lollipops he gave them if they had been careful with their usage of paper. He was such a usual sight in the neighbourhood, that when bookbinders went out of demand, and he had to close shop, the empty office of his gave everyone heartache.
All the girls who had grown up to be mothers in his lifetime, were considerate enough to take care of him with his meals and clothes after his shop got closed and his wife passed away. He thanked them from the bottom of his heart, and prayed for their marital happiness after each namaz.
He took one of his Begum’s favourite books in hand; it seemed to call to him somehow. He let his fingers feel the spine, no longer erect owing to much use. It was a compilation of Ghalib’s works. His begum adored the book. He had taught her to read and write Urdu, and her last words to him were that she would always be indebted to him for the beauty and happiness that language gave her.
He flipped the pages one by one, paying special attentions to the lines his begum had underlined. Sure enough, she had a taste for the magnificent. It only made him realize how much he still loved her. She was like the azaan that enlightens the listener, the freshness and purity of it never dampening, no matter how many times it was repeated.
And then, he felt himself drifting. Off to a distant place, perhaps to somewhere better. Where there was joy and beauty the kind books gave him. The transition was slow and moving, and he lived every bit of it.
The next morning, before the fazr prayer, when they took out his janaaza, the first drops of rain fell.